End to the 92 Year old Practice: All courts in J&K, Ladakh UTs to follow uniform timings

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JAMMU, May 23: In yet another historic decision, Chief Justice of High Court Justice Gita Mittal has ordered that all the courts in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh will follow uniform timings round the year irrespective of the weather conditions as the 92 years old practice is negatively impacting valuable Constitutional rights of the litigants.

The decision has been taken by the Chief Justice after threadbare discussion with all the stakeholders including Judges of the High Court, Judicial Officers and representatives of the Bar Associations. With the implementation of this decision from June 1, there will be parity in the timings of the Government offices and the courts.

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As against 12 Judges in the High Court including Chief Justice, only nine Judges expressed their views while participating in the discussion on the relevance of practice of change of court timings.

Three Judges supported the 92 years old practice of change to summer timings while as six Judges (five in writing and one orally) don’t support the past practice. One out of six views suggests slight change in the timings. However, no views stand expressed by other Judges.

However, with the majority vote of the High Court Judges and after detailed deliberations the Chief Justice has come to the conclusion that practice to change court timings for five months from May to October and from November to end of April in Jammu and Kashmir each year is not justifiable as such all the courts in J&K and Ladakh UTs will follow uniform timings round the year with effect from June 1, 2020.

As far as High Court and all other courts in the Jammu division are concerned, the timings will be from 10 am to 4 pm with one hour break from 1 pm to 2 pm while as in Kashmir Division and UT of Ladakh, the High Court as well as all other courts will have timings from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm with one hour break.

Pointing towards the Government Order No.1267 dated August 13, 2018 whereby practice of change of timings stands abandoned in the UT of J&K, the Chief Justice said, “with this development the very basis for change of timings by courts has been taken away”, adding “if the courts were to change working timings, no Government official or record would be available to any court before 10 am and this would render it impossible to hear writ petitions against the Government in the High Court and valuable judicial timing would be wasted in passing over matters to await officials, Government instructions and records”.

About reason of harsh weather conditions behind change of timings, the Chief Justice said, “this reason is not supported by the practice followed. It appears that in the past summer timings were followed from end of April to end of September every year, way beyond what is considered as summer in any part of the country. Similar winter timings followed from beginning of November to end of April are way beyond the winter season”.

“The Supreme Court located in Delhi, which sees temperatures from April almost till November which are much higher than those in Jammu, functions from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm throughout the year without any change”, the Chief Justice said, adding “the timings of courts all over the country except in one State remain uniform round the year with only minor regional variations with regard to the commencement of the sittings”.

She further said, “the only exception with regard to the universal rule of uniform timings round the year is the Rajasthan High Court which follows the court timings between 10.30 am to 4.30 pm except for three months of April, May and June when the timings of court sitting is changed from 8 am to 1 pm”, adding “this divergence emanates from the geographical location of the State in the desert, which consequentially experiences exceptionally harsh summers with temperatures going well over 50 degree Celsius and it is not so in any part of J&K”.

Referring the information from relevant meteorological sources, the Chief Justice further said, “temperatures in Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana and Delhi amongst other States an UTs are much higher than the maximum in the hottest part of the UT of J&K but despite this all the courts follow the same timings round the year”.

“Many of these courts have much larger litigation loads than the courts in J&K and work efficiently round the year without change of timings”, Justice Mittal said in a detailed order, adding “given the proximity of the summer zone districts to the winter zone districts in J&K with high mountainous features, the temperatures anywhere in the UT don’t reach the high levels as are reached in several other parts of the country”.

She has further pointed out that there is no change of court timings in the Himalayan States of Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim which experience similar weather conditions as the Kashmir winter.
“The practice of change in timings has become an obstacle in ensuring equal access to courts to all litigants”, she said. In this regard, she has pointed out that people coming from Khour in Akhnoor, Dudu in Udhampur, Nowgam in Ramban, Chaklas in Reasi, Sarthal in Kathua and Dogrian in Poonch find it difficult to reach district courts in time for a hearing to commence at 8 am or even 8.30 am. “It is the same position in the courts where timings are changed in the winters”, she added.

“Ought litigants from these areas be deprived of their fundamental right to seek relief and redressal for their grievance and justice dispensation? She asked, adding “the answer has to be in the negative”.

In the order, she has also mentioned in details the difficulties being encountered by the lawyers and staff of the courts and said, “Jammu and Kashmir has poor judicial infrastructure especially in the district judiciary and this by itself cannot be a reason for depriving the large number of litigants who would be unable to reach the courts if the past practice of changing timings was implemented anymore”.

“All systems and practices which impede expedition in judicial dispensation or bring inefficiency to judicial functioning are, therefore, required to be staunchly abjured”, the Chief Justice said, adding “clearly ensuring the constitutional rights of every citizen is the primary duty of every Judge and any practice which impedes or negatively impacts the same cannot be perpetuated”.

With these observations, the Chief Justice has made it clear that practice to change court timings for five months from May to October and from November to end of April in J&K each year is not justifiable. “The change of timings brings inefficiency into judicial functioning, reduces court sitting time and is not in the best interest and welfare of the lawyers, litigants and court staff”, she has concluded in the order.

It is pertinent to mention here that the full-fledged High Court for Jammu and Kashmir was established in the year 1928 and change in the timings of the courts is being ordered since then.